How come Pep Guardiola still can’t get a win in front of the Anfield crowd in his coaching career?
How does Jurgen Klopp manage to consistently be his most dangerous rival among managers, and especially at the Liverpool Stadium? What is it about Anfield that bothers Pep so much?
Guardiola tried to find an answer to these questions ahead of Sunday’s clash between Manchester City and Liverpool.
“It’s mainly because they have a good team,” was the Catalan’s explanation. “Of course the crowd contributes in every stadium, but mainly it’s because of their good team.”
However, this explanation does not sound very convincing.
Of course, Guardiola is right that Liverpool’s class is the main factor, although we needed the Reds to remind us of that class after their poor start to the season.
A 1-0 win over City with Mohamed Salah’s goal not only showed what Liverpool are still capable of, but also has the potential to give the team’s campaign another boost.
The Merseysiders are still double-digit points behind the champions, but with 10 points adrift and a game in hand, the situation does not look hopeless. Klopp has already rejected the possibility of his team fighting for the title several times, but there is no shortage of people who believe.
Guardiola himself refused to write Liverpool off and named Klopp’s squad as City’s main threat. That’s right, eighth-placed Liverpool, not league leaders Arsenal.
Pep was aware that another difficult visit to Anfield was ahead of him and he knew what was happening to him in this stadium. He described the atmosphere of this mythical place as “one of the grandest and most beautiful, a pleasure to be here”.
But it doesn’t appear that the manager has taken pleasure in this particular touchline over the years.
His record at his nightmarish stadium is one win, two draws and four losses, the important detail being that the only win came in front of empty stands in February last year.
When the home crowd is electrifying at Anfield, Guardiola sometimes loses his composure, and he did so yesterday.
Sarcastic cheers to the head referee, tirades to the fourth official, catcalls to the fans behind him – he was definitely giving himself away, but he wasn’t having a particularly good time.
After all, Pep, like many other managers, is influenced by the legend of Anfield, which states that the crowd is capable of turning the game against any opponent.
The special thing about this type of legend is that they only matter if you believe in them.
Before Phil Foden’s disallowed goal early in the second half ignited the game, the crowd had little influence on what was happening on the pitch.
Zapaliankovci had watched a first half that did not live up to the expectations of a great spectacle between the two best teams in England in recent years.
Something had to happen to change the course of the encounter – and that moment came when Foden scored, but VAR intervened and Anthony Taylor disallowed the goal for Erling Holland’s foul on Fabinho in the attack.
So the home crowd finally had a reason to loudly celebrate something in this match.
And Pep went crazy and played a real pantomime sketch with furious waving, which energized the supporters even more.
Suddenly, Guardiola became the conductor of exactly the atmosphere his team had hoped to avoid at Anfield.
Seconds later, when Liverpool went clear and Diogo Jota was inches away from scoring, several home players further enlivened the campaign with encouraging gestures.
Guardiola rejoined the show and started pointing at the ground and shouting “It’s Anfield, it’s Anfield!”
From there, the match became too difficult to control. Emotions had peaked both on the field, on both benches, and in the stands. The control that Pep is so fond of exercising in matches, and on which his dominance of English football is based, was now impossible to achieve.
Then came Salah’s winner, due as much to the Egyptian’s class and Alisson’s assist as to impulsive City forwards and a rash move by Joao Cancelo.
After the loss, Pep Guardiola repeated the line “This is Anfield” when asked about City’s disallowed goal.
He also complained that coins were thrown at him by the crowd. “They’ll do better next time. They didn’t hit me this time. They’ll try again next year,” he gushed.
The manager also recalled how in 2018 Liverpool fans pelted City’s bus with bottles and other objects.
“Merseysiders” hastened to apologize for the pennies thrown on the bench and promised to punish the culprits with a lifetime ban from entering the stadium. However, they were angered by City supporters who indulged in vicious chants about the Hazel and Hillsborough tragedies.
Guardiola simply explained the exchange of remarks with the opposing fans: “They shouted, we shouted more”. The Catalan did not miss to criticize his players for being “soft” in their last two meetings with Liverpool.
But for Guardiola himself, the balance sheet cannot be good either.
It was another away game at Anfield where his attention was initially focused on the pitch, but as the game progressed he began to do battle with the crowd – a crowd that remains invincible to him.
And as long as he approaches it that way, his bane at the Liverpool stadium is likely to continue.